Objectives: Hereditary hearing loss exhibits high degrees of genetic and clinical heterogeneity. To elucidate the population-specific and age-related genetic and clinical spectra of hereditary hearing loss, we investigated the sequencing data of causally associated hearing loss genes in a large cohort of hearing-impaired probands with a balanced age distribution from a single center in Southwest Germany.
Design: Genetic testing was applied to 305 hearing-impaired probands/families with a suspected genetic hearing loss etiology and a balanced age distribution over a period of 8 years (2011-2018). These individuals were representative of the regional population according to age and sex distributions. The genetic testing workflow consisted of single-gene screening (n = 21) and custom-designed hearing loss gene panel sequencing (n = 284) targeting known nonsyndromic and syndromic hearing loss genes in a diagnostic setup. Retrospective reanalysis of sequencing data was conducted by applying the current American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics/Association for Molecular Pathology guidelines.
Results: A genetic diagnosis was established for 75 (25%) of the probands that involved 75 causal variants in 35 genes, including 16 novel causal variants and 9 medically significant variant reclassifications. Nearly half of the solved cases (47%; n = 35) were related to variants in the five most frequently affected genes: GJB2 (25%), MYO15A, WFS1, SLC26A4, and COL11A1 (all 5%). Nearly one-quarter of the cases (23%; n = 17) were associated with variants in seven additional genes (TMPRSS3, COL4A3, LOXHD1, EDNRB, MYO6, TECTA, and USH2A). The remaining one-third of single cases (33%; n = 25) were linked to variants in 25 distinct genes. Diagnostic rates and gene distribution were highly dependent on phenotypic characteristics. A positive family history of autosomal-recessive inheritance in combination with early onset and higher grades of hearing loss significantly increased the solve rate up to 60%, while late onset and lower grades of hearing loss yielded significantly fewer diagnoses. Regarding genetic diagnoses, autosomal-dominant genes accounted for 37%, autosomal-recessive genes for 60%, and X-linked genes for 3% of the solved cases. Syndromic/nonsyndromic hearing loss mimic genes were affected in 27% of the genetic diagnoses.
Conclusions: The genetic epidemiology of the largest German cohort subjected to comprehensive targeted sequencing for hereditary hearing loss to date revealed broad causal gene and variant spectra in this population. Targeted hearing loss gene panel analysis proved to be an effective tool for ensuring an appropriate diagnostic yield in a routine clinical setting including the identification of novel variants and medically significant reclassifications. Solve rates were highly sensitive to phenotypic characteristics. The unique population-adapted and balanced age distribution of the cohort favoring late hearing loss onset uncovered a markedly large contribution of autosomal-dominant genes to the diagnoses which may be a representative for other age balanced cohorts in other populations.